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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Missing for a month: Where is China’s foreign minister?

BEIJING—China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang has not been seen in public for almost a month, sparking a flurry of questions over his whereabouts.

Here’s what we know so far about the disappearance of one of China’s most senior diplomats:

Qin, considered a confidante of President Xi Jinping, was appointed foreign minister in December 2022.

The 57-year-old spent several years at the Chinese embassy in London and is a fluent English speaker.

Qin earned a reputation as a “Wolf Warrior,” a nickname given to a new generation of Chinese diplomats who push back with often inflammatory rhetoric against Western criticism of Beijing.

He said in 2020 the image of China in the West had deteriorated because Europeans and Americans—in particular the media—had never accepted the Chinese political system or its economic rise.

While serving as ambassador to the United States, Qin stepped up his visibility through public and media appearances in Washington in which he explained the Chinese position.

Following his appointment as minister, he kept up a busy schedule, visiting Africa, Europe and Central Asia as well as hosting foreign dignitaries in Beijing.

Qin has not been seen in public since June 25, when he met with Russia’s deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko in Beijing.

But it was his absence from a high-level ASEAN summit in Indonesia two weeks later that first raised eyebrows.

China’s foreign ministry said “health reasons” were to blame for Qin’s absence.

But that has done little to stem an explosion of rumors online.

“Everyone is concerned about something but cannot discuss it publicly,” Hu Xijin, a prominent commentator with the state tabloid Global Times, said in a post on Weibo.

“A balance needs to be struck between maintaining the situation and respecting the public’s right to know,” he said.

The foreign ministry has since deflected further questions about Qin’s absence.

Qin’s absence has left a vacuum at the top of China’s foreign ministry.

A visit by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to Beijing was abruptly called off this month.

And Bloomberg reported on Friday that a visit by UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was postponed due to Qin’s absence.

Top foreign policy official Wang Yi — who outranks Qin in China’s political hierarchy — has taken on some of his responsibilities in the meantime, traveling to Africa this week to attend a BRICS meeting on security affairs in Johannesburg.

And Beijing has insisted throughout his absence that China’s diplomacy is functioning as normal.

But as the foreign ministry reaches a month without a visible boss, doubts will start to mount over how much it’s business as usual.

“When the top dog is disappeared by the state, everyone in the organization freezes,” Desmond Shum, a former Chinese business and political insider and author of “Red Roulette” tweeted.

“Who’s going to sign on the dotted line of the minister?”

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